Calumet Farm’s Choo Choo captured the California Derby on a synthetic surface earlier this year
There is $800,000 and 85 Kentucky Derby points at stake Sunday when a field of 12 3-year-olds heads to the post at Sunland Park in New Mexico for the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby. There are no standouts in this field, and whoever emerges as the victor will not only have won their first graded stakes, but will have virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup for the Kentucky Derby with the 50 points that goes to the winner
Trainer Dale Romans appears to have the strongest hand with a pair of colts who have been knocking on the door in top stakes competition.
Albaugh Family Stables’ Hollywood Star, a Malibu Moon colt purchased for $550,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, finished second for Romans last year in the G2 Saratoga Special and G3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs before winding up his season with a sixth-place finish behind champion Good Magic in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. He made his 2018 debut at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing fourth behind Flameaway in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 10. Robby Albarado is scheduled to ride.
Seven Trumpets, racing for West Point Thoroughbreds, made an impressive stakes debut for Romans Jan. 13 when the son of Morning Line was a close second to G1 winner Firenze Fire in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Most recently, he faltered on a muddy track at Oaklawn Park in the G3 Southwest, finishing a well-beaten seventh. Luis Contreras rides.
Simon Callaghan, who saddled 2015 Sunland Derby winner Firing Line, brings the Concord Point colt All Out Blitz to New Mexico from his Southern California base for Kaleem Shah. All Out Blitz was second to Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie – a leading Kentucky Derby candidate – in the G3 Sham at Santa Anita Jan. 6, then was third behind Kanthaka in the G2 San Vicente. He’ll have Martin Garcia in the saddle.
Another Santa Anita invader is Spendthrift Farm and Town and Country Racing’s Peace, a Violence colt who finished fourth last out behind McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro for Richard Mandella in the G2 San Felipe. Drayden Van Dyke has been named to ride.
California Derby winner Choo Choo is the only unrestricted stakes winner in the Sunland Derby field, but the English Channel colt won that race on a synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields and he has yet to win on dirt. Owned and bred by Calumet Farm and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Choo Choo broke his maiden on turf at Del Mar after finishing fourth in his only dirt race in a maiden contest at Los Alamitos in September. Mario Guitierrez is slated to ride.
Two-time Sunland Derby winner Steve Asmussen also sends out a pair in New York Central (Tapit) and Dream Baby Dream (Into Mischief), who finished first and third, respectively, in a Feb. 19 allowance race at Oaklawn.
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